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Entries in State Department (18)

Tuesday
Feb262013

State Department 'Excited' About "Argo's" Oscars Win

Warner Bros. Pictures(WASHINGTON) -- Argo's victory at the Oscars went over well with the State Department, the setting for some scenes in the best picture winner.

Officials in the department were "excited" to see the movie claim the Oscars' top prize, according to department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

Ventrell said Secretary of State John Kerry was appreciative of the fact that Argo -- based on the true story of the CIA's rescue of six American diplomats hiding in the Canadian ambassador's home during the Iranian hostage crisis -- informed audiences of "the challenges we face living and working in overseas embassies."

Over the weekend, Kerry tweeted, "Good luck @BenAffleck and #Argo at the Oscars. Nice seeing @StateDept & our Foreign Service on the big screen."

Iranian media has had less-supportive things to say about Argo since the Oscars, claiming the film is biased and depicts the country in an unflattering light.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec212012

State Department Deputies Grilled by GOP at Benghazi Hearing

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Surrogates for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced sharp questions from the House Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday about the Obama administration's initial statements about the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton, who is recovering from a mild concussion she suffered from a fall, was represented by Deputy Secretaries of State Thomas Nides and William Burns, who were interrogated by GOP lawmakers about why protesters outside the mission were blamed when it was eventually concluded that terrorists were responsible for a pre-planned assault.

Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House panel, acknowledged she lacked "confidence in [the State Department’s] assessment in what went wrong and what actions are needed to prevent a repeat" despite an independent report released earlier that delivered a scathing indictment of the department's failures to prevent the siege that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The lawmaker pressed Nides and Burns about why United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice was allowed to go on record five days after the attack to claim that it was the outgrowth of a demonstration against an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S.

Burns told the committee that Rice was reading from talking points given to her by the CIA, which she later disavowed.  He added that while the president and Clinton were certain terrorists were behind the consulate attack, it still hadn't become immediately clear who arranged the assault and how it happened.

He added, "It did take the intelligence community some days to determine what was inaccurate…I’m sure our colleagues in the intelligence community wish they could have cleared up those inaccuracies sooner."

However, Republicans weren't buying it as Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot alleged the White House's story was "ham-handed at best and a cover up at worst."

Democratic members of the committee seemed more outraged at their GOP colleagues than by the failures of the State Department.

Retiring New York Congressman Gary Ackerman told Nides and Burns, "I’d like to apologize to the deputy secretaries.  You have been brought here as a ruse.  You are being used…for partisan and political purposes."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec192012

Benghazi Report Finds 'Systematic Failure' by State Department

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department has released its independent, internal investigation into the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, concluding the attack was the result of the State Department's "systematic failure" in addressing the security needs of the consulate.

The 39-page unclassified report, released Monday, is highly critical of decisions made by senior officials from the Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs bureaus as demonstrating "a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by the Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection."

The attacked killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, information specialist Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were contractors working for the CIA.  Stevens' slaying was the first of a U.S. ambassador since 1988.

[ CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REPORT ]

The investigation was conducted by the Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late September.  The five members spent the last two months interviewing over 100 officials and pouring over thousands of documents and watching hours of video, before issuing conclusions and recommendations to Clinton about what happened before the attack and how another attack may be prevented.

The board concluded that several decisions in Washington left the security posture at the Benghazi consulate "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."  However, the report did not single out any individual officials, finding no "reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty."

The report makes the point that the State Department has been subject to so many budget cuts from Congress over the years that there is a culture of "conditioning a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation," and gives several examples of how Washington failed the staff at the Benghazi consulate, essentially vindicating claims made by regional security officers that senior officials in Washington consistently turned down security requests from the Embassy in Tripoli.

"Overall, the number of Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months and weeks leading up to it was inadequate, despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing," said the report.  "Board members found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing."

Though the state department has repeatedly pointed to the local militia in Benghazi as being an integral part of the security plan at the consulate, in reality, the militia proved inadequate and ineffective, according to the report's findings.

While the report had harsh criticism for the bureaucrats in Washington, it had nothing but praise for security officials on the ground, whom it said "performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near impossible situation."

The report sheds new light on the death of Stevens as well.  U.S. officials still do not know who exactly transported him to a Benghazi hospital after finding him in the consulate after the smoke cleared, calling them "good Samaritans."  The investigation found that doctors tried for 45 minutes to revive the ambassador, who was likely dead from smoke inhalation when he arrived at the hospital.

The Accountability Review Board also disputed any claims that the Pentagon did not respond in a timely manner or turned down assistance requests.  An unmanned drone was dispatched to Benghazi on the night of the attack, but other military options were too far away to provide immediate help.

"The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference," said the report, which went on to praise the military response.  "The safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans."

Despite the sharp criticism for the State Department, the board does make it clear that the gunmen who carried out the attack are ultimately responsible.

"The Board remains fully convinced that responsibility for the tragic loss of life, injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attack," the report said.

But the report finds that there were warning signs; a sharp increase of attacks on Western interests in Benghazi -- a knowledge from the intelligence community that even if there was no actionable intelligence on a future attack, it was known that radical Islamic groups were operating in the area -- that required better planning and protection than what the consulate had.

Clinton, who is at home recovering from a stomach flu that caused her to faint and suffer a concussion, received the report Monday morning.  After reviewing it, she issued eight-page cover letters to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees, where she said that she accepted the report's conclusions in their entirety.

"The Accountability Review Board report provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix," said Clinton.  "I am grateful for its recommendations for how we can reduce the chances of this kind of tragedy happening again. I accept every one of them."

She added that she has already established a task force that met for the first time on Tuesday, which will make sure that the board's findings are implemented "quickly and completely."

Clinton also addressed the issue of chain-and-command and bureaucracy problems between the field and Washington.  She announced she is naming the first-ever Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of High Threat Posts, a senior level position devoted solely to focusing on security at high risk posts.  

She also said that in the future, regional Assistant Secretaries based in Washington at the highest levels will have greater responsibility and accountability for their people and posts in the field.

 Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec122012

State Department Vague on Reports of US Detainee in North Korea

State Department photo(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department on Tuesday declined to confirm reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea for more than a month.

“We obviously have no higher priority than the welfare of our citizens,” State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.  “We have no representation in Pyongyang.  The embassy of Sweden acts as our ‘protecting power’ for issues involving U.S. citizens in North Korea.”

A South Korean newspaper has reported that a U.S. tour operator entered North Korea at the port city of Rajin accompanied by five other tourists.  The group was on a five-day trip to the country when they were detained, accused of carrying a computer hard disk containing “sensitive information,” according to the reports.

A senior State Department official said that without a signed privacy waiver, the United States can’t comment on any case involving a U.S. citizen abroad, but would work through the Swedish “protecting power” in North Korea to gain access to the individual in a case such as this one.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov292012

Secretary Clinton Marks 20 Years of Gay Diplomats Openly Serving

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary Clinton paid tribute to the State Department’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) organization. The ceremony was held in the State Department's historic Ben Franklin room for the first time.

After receiving a standing ovation Clinton thanked the crowd for what she called their courageous actions in the face of historic discrimination. The secretary lamented that homosexuals could not serve openly in the State Department until 1992.

"The policy forced people to lie or mislead or give up their dreams of serving this country all together," she said, noting that it was under her husband's first administration that federal gay employees received equal rights and partner benefits. Clinton said during her tenure she's made expanding State Department policies to be more LGBT friendly a priority.  

"Our people should not have to choose between serving the country they love and living the life with the people they love," she said.

The secretary has also been a champion for homosexual and transgender rights globally. On International Human Rights Day last December, Clinton gave a speech in Geneva declaring that for the United States, "gay rights are human rights," and led the effort to get the first-ever U.N. resolution on human rights for LGBT community passed.

"When I gave that speech in Geneva and said that we were going to make this a priority of American foreign policy, I didn't see it as something special, something that was added on to everything else we do, but something that was integral to who we are and what we stand for," she said.

Clinton asked the crowd, a mixture of veteran and young gay State Department employees, to stop and reflect on how much progress America has made in advancing gay rights, and how far behind much of the rest of the world still is.

"Remind yourself, as I do every day, what it must be like for a young boy or a young girl in some other part of the world who could literally be killed, and often has been and still will be, who will be shunned, who will be put in danger every day of his or her life," she said.

"I want you to leave this celebration thinking about what more each and every one of you can do ... to make not only the agencies of our government, but our world more just and free for all people."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov262012

Andrew W.K. Nixed By State Dept. as Cultural Ambassador

State Department photo/ Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- Singer, rocker, free-form motivational speaker, and general party dude Andrew W.K. caused a stir in the music world by claiming the U.S. State Department had made him a cultural ambassador to the Middle East.

Unfortunately for rockers and partiers worldwide, it won’t be happening.

W.K., whose given name is Andrew Wilkes-Krier, posted to his website announcing the State Department had invited him to travel to Bahrain in December to “promot[e] partying and world peace”:

The US Department of State in partnership with the US Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, has invited Andrew to visit the Middle East to promote partying and positive power. In the tradition of the American Jazz Ambassadors who traveled the world in the mid 20th century as examples of American culture and spirit, Andrew has been invited by the State Department to travel to the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain and share his music and partying with the people there. Andrew will begin his journey sometime in December, 2012 and will visit elementary schools, the University of Bahrain, music venues, and more, all while promoting partying and world peace.

Andrew says: “This is a tremendous invitation. I’m very thankful to the Department of State for giving me the opportunity to visit a place I’ve never been before. And I feel very privileged and humbled by the chance to represent the United States of America and show the good people of Bahrain the power of positive partying. I can hardly wait for this adventure!”

But a State Department spokeswoman on Monday called the plans a “mistake.”

“We had a Bahraini entity that approached the embassy about co-sponsoring a visit by this guy, who I take it is pretty popular there in Bahrain. That was initially approved, and then when more senior management at the embassy took a look at this, the conclusion was that this was not an appropriate use of U.S. government funds,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a briefing.

“I think the conclusion was when they looked at the body of his work that we didn’t need to be part of this invitation,” Nuland said. “There may have been some preliminary conversations with him. But he is not going to be going to Bahrain on the U.S. government’s dime.”

Andrew W.K. made a name for himself with the 2001 album I Get Wet, which featured metal-inspired pop-rock songs almost exclusively about partying. W.K. later hosted a show on MTV2 in which he received letters from troubled fans and attempted to help with their problems. He currently hosts the Cartoon Network show Destroy Build Destroy.

W.K. has made a career of promoting the idea of partying, explaining it as a life ethos in free-form motivational speeches, where he stresses positive thinking and self-empowerment through partying and rock music.

The singer isn’t taking the State Department rebuke so well.

He posted an update to his website on Monday, including a promotional flyer for his Bahrain appearance bearing red, block letters reading “CANCELED BY THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT.” Read Andrew W.K.’s update:

BREAKING NEWS: After a year of planning and development, the US State Department has unexpectedly canceled their plans for Andrew’s trip to the Middle East this week, after changing their minds and deciding that it was “a mistake and not appropriate.” More information and a statement from Andrew, coming soon.

The singer also tweeted: “They can cancel our party in the Middle East, but they can never cancel the party in our hearts. #StayPositiveStayParty.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov202012

US Officials Emphasize ‘De-escalating’ Gaza Violence

State Department photo/ Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- As news reports emerged Tuesday of a ceasefire or truce to end the crisis in Gaza, American officials made it a point not to use either of those terms.

Instead, U.S. officials were talking about “de-escalating” the violence in Gaza as a step toward a long-term resolution.

Briefing White House reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes repeatedly said “de-escalation” was the goal for ending the violence in Gaza and Israel.

When asked if he was avoiding using the term “ceasefire,” Rhodes said, "No, I mean, there are many ways that you can achieve the goal of a de-escalation.” He added, "Our bottom line is, is an end to rocket fire. We’re open to any number of ideas for achieving that goal. We’ve discussed any number of ideas for accomplishing that goal. But it’s going to have to begin with a reduction of tensions and space created for the situation to calm. ”

At the State Department briefing earlier in the day, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was also using “de-escalation.”

Nuland was asked several times why she was using that term instead of “ceasefire” or “truce.”  She indicated it was because the State Department did not want to get into characterizing acceptable terminology.  “I’m not going to characterize X is acceptable, Y is not acceptable. That’s a subject for negotiation,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, “because the parties are talking, we’re going to be part of that, and we’re not going to negotiate it here from the podium. We’re not going to characterize it here from the podium.”

The message she did want to get across was that “any de-escalation is a step forward.”

Of the long-term aims of Secretary of State Clinton’s last-minute mission to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, Nuland said you “obviously start with a de-escalation of this conflict.”  From there, “we have to see an end to the rocket fire on Israel. We have to see a restoration of calm in Gaza. And the hope is that if we can get through those stages, that will create space for the addressing of broader issues, but I don’t want to prejudge. This is obviously ongoing and live diplomacy.”

Before her meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton too avoided using the term “ceasefire.”

After describing America’s commitment to Israel’s security as “rock-solid and unwavering,” Clinton said, “That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.”

Clinton said that the rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza “must end and a broader calm restored.”  She added that the focus was on "a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov192012

State Department Spokesperson Grilled on 'Quiet Diplomacy' Policy on Gaza

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At a State Department briefing Monday, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about the diplomatic progress to end the violence in Gaza. Over the weekend, Nuland released a statement detailing the telephone calls Secretary Clinton made to five different allies, underscoring the intense diplomacy taking place behind the scenes to try and de-escalate the situation.

But Monday, when reporters questioned Nuland on the specifics of what the U.S. is doing, Nuland refused at least 11 times to discuss any details of the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts, frustrating the press corps.

Reporters took the spokesperson to task for her non-answers, wondering why if leaders of allies such as Turkey and Egypt are forcefully speaking out against Israel while also helping to negotiate a ceasefire, the United States has not just as forcefully spoken out in defense of the Jewish state.

When questioned about whether "quiet diplomacy" is helping in negotiations, Nuland simply responded, "We are working hard with the parties."

One reporter continued to push, accusing the U.S. of "staying silent while people are dying left and right," and criticized the State Department for not responding to Turkey's president calling Israel's actions "acts of terror" against the Palestinians.

“I'm not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We're just not going to do that, OK?" said Nuland.

After several minutes of the contentious exchange an exasperated Nuland finally responded, “We of course agree that rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment. Is that what you were looking for?”

Nuland did respond to questions about calls from members of Congress to have aid in Egypt re-evaluated if the country does not reign in Hamas. She said, “There's no stipulation with regard to this issue in legislation,” but that Congress still has to approve the release of appropriated funds, and that the State Department is still working with the hill on getting economic support funds released.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct052012

State Department Rejected Security Request in Libya, Email Shows

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- ABC News has obtained an internal State Department email from May 3, 2012 indicating that the State Department denied a request from the security team at the Embassy of Libya to retain a DC-3 airplane in the country to better conduct their duties.

Copied on the email was U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in an terrorist attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, along with three other Americans.  That attack has prompted questions about whether the diplomatic personnel in that country were provided with adequate security support.

No one has yet to argue that the DC-3 would have definitively made a difference for the four Americans killed that night.  The security team in question, after all, left Libya in August.

But the question -- both for the State Department, which is conducting an internal investigation, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is holding hearings next week -- is whether officials in Washington, D.C., specifically at the State Department, were as aware as they should have been about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, and whether officials were doing everything they could to protect Americans in that country.

Earlier this week, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and another member of the committee wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listing 13 incidents leading up to the attack -- ranging from IED and RPG attacks to a “posting on a pro-Gaddafi Facebook page” publicizing early morning runs taken by the late Ambassador Stevens and his security detail around Tripoli.

“Was State Department headquarters in Washington aware of all the above incidents?” they asked Secretary Clinton, requesting written responses by Oct. 8.  “If not, why not?  If so, what measures did the State Department take to match the level of security provided to the U.S. Mission in Libya to the level of threat?”

The subject line of the email, from Miki Rankin, the Post Management Officer for Libya and Saudi Arabia, reads “Termination of Tripoli DC-3 Support.”

Rankin informs Stevens and the others on the email, whose names have been redacted, that Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy “has determined that support for Embassy Tripoli using the DC-3 will be terminated immediately.  Post’s request to continue use of the plane in support of the SST was considered.  However, it was decided that, if needed, NEA will charter a special flight for their departure.”

[ CLICK HERE TO SEE THE EMAIL ]

An “SST” is a Security Support Team, approximately 16 Special Forces troops assigned to protect officials from the U.S. State Department.  This particular SST was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

When shown the email uncovered by ABC News, a spokesman for the committee said that the “document is consistent with what the Oversight Committee has been told by individuals who worked in Libya.  Ambassador Stevens and the diplomatic mission in Libya made multiple security related requests that were turned down by Washington based officials.  Security related transportation has been identified as one of the particular items where embassy personnel did not receive the support they sought.”

Provided with a copy of the e-mail, a senior State Department official downplayed the importance of the denied request.  The official told ABC News that “the DC-3 was pulled from Iraq and moved to support Libya early on when there was no commercial airline service into Libya.  When commercial service was re-established in Libya, the aircraft was reassigned to other State Department business.  We use our aircraft when no commercial flights exist.”

The U.S. government official who provided the email to ABC News -- and wanted to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter -- described the small DC-3 plane as an asset for a security team to more freely and safely move throughout the country, and to more easily transport arms and other security equipment.  In short, having the plane allowed the security team to better perform its duties, the official said.

The State Department official acknowledged that the plane was used to get around Libya, not just to get in and out of the country.  But once commercial air service was reestablished, the State Department decided that the SST didn’t need the plane anymore.  The security team, it would seem, disagreed.

Told of the State Department’s explanation, the House Oversight Committee spokesman said that the “State Department’s naive determination to follow rigid bureaucratic policies, instead of making common sense decisions that took the serious threat of terrorism conveyed by those on the ground into account, appears to have been a significant factor in the Benghazi Consulate’s lack of preparedness.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 10, the committee will hold a hearing featuring the testimony of Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya from September 2011 through June 2012, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of International Programs Charlene Lamb.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jun082012

State Department Sticks By McGurk, Despite Racy Emails

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When sexually explicit emails first surfaced between Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s nominee to be the ambassador to Iraq, and a Wall Street Journal reporter who later became McGurk’s wife, the State Department refused to comment.

But now spokesperson Victoria Nuland is making it clear the State Department is sticking by its choice.

Nuland defended the nomination of McGurk calling him “uniquely qualified” for the position.

“He spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration,” she told reporters. “He is in our view uniquely qualified to serve as the ambassador and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination,” she said.

Nuland would not comment directly on the explicit nature of the emails, some of which included references to masturbation. The email exchanges were sent to Gina Chon in 2008 when McGurk was working in Iraq negotiating sensitive diplomatic issues such as the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops. Chon was covering Iraq for the Journal. At the time McGurk was married. The blog Cryptome published their racy correspondence earlier this week. ABC News has confirmed the authenticity of the emails.

Senate sources tell ABC News that they have questions over whether McGurk was offering access to information and power, even jokingly, to Chon as part of their blooming relationship. For example in one email Chon jokingly refers to reporters as vultures attacking sources, to which he replies, “If treated to many glasses of wine -- you could be the chosen vulture.”

McGurk also talks about bringing the reporter with him to dinner with a leading Iraqi politician. He ultimately does not, but writes later, “I had a very good day with the Iraqi’s … the best yet. Can’t tell you about it of course. But you should definitely stay past Sunday,” he writes.

McGurk and Chon are now married, a point Nuland made to reporters saying that she had no comment on the emails except that “they are out there for everyone to see between him and the woman who subsequently became his wife.”

As to whether McGurk was properly vetted, Nuland maintained that “all of the necessary things were done before his nomination” and managed with the exact same process the administration uses for all nominations.

Nuland would not comment specifically about Republican Senate criticism of the emails and McGurk’s nomination, but confirmed that the department is continuing to work with members of Congress over McGurk’s nomination process, “in support of it as we do on all nominees.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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